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Iraq forces likely need help to regain territory: US

The US military's top officer said Thursday that Iraqi forces had shored up their defenses around Baghdad but would need outside help to eventually regain territory lost to Sunni militants. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a news conference that the initial impression from American military advisers on the ground was that Iraqi forces were not yet in a position to stage a major counter-offensive after being driven back by the Sunni extremists. "If you are asking me will the Iraqis, at some point, be able to go back on the offensive to recapture the part of Iraq that they've lost... probably not by themselves," Dempsey said. An Iraqi military campaign designed to roll back the Islamist militants would take time to develop and would have to be accompanied by clear signals from the Shiite-led government in Baghdad that it is ready to reach out to Sunni and Kurdish communities, the general said.

New York deploys more police to combat rise in shootings

New York Police Chief Bill Bratton has ordered desk officers onto street patrols to combat an eight percent spike in violence this year, police said Thursday. The New York Times said 400 was the highest number assigned to short-term street patrols in recent decades. "This program is still in the process of being assessed as to the actual number of personnel to be temporarily assigned and the units from which they will be reassigned, as well as the areas where they may be deployed," a police spokesman told AFP. Shootings in New York rose 8.1 percent in the first six months of the year to 521, compared to 482 in the same period last year, New York police department said.

Dow closes above 17,000 for 1st time

Wall Street stocks Thursday closed at new records, with the Dow crossing 17,000 for the first time following a government report that showed surprisingly strong US jobs growth. The Dow Jones Industrial Average shot up 92.02 points (0.54 percent) to 17,068.26, while the S&P 500 gained 10.82 (0.55 percent) to 1,985.44. The tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 28.19 (0.63 percent) to 4,485.93 The gains followed a Labor Department report that showed the US economy added a robust 288,000 jobs in June, while the unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent from 6.3 percent in May.

Obama's bank comments not a signal of new rules: White House

President Barack Obama's recent comments on the need for more bank regulation were intended to underscore the need to keep close watch over market risks rather than to signal a new policy initiative, a White House spokesman said on Thursday. "He wasn't referring to any specific regulation or law that he had in mind but rather the need to continue to vigilantly monitor financial markets to assess risks that may be emerging and to ensure that the necessary regulatory protections are in place, again, to ensure the stability of the financial markets," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters at a briefing.

ECB holds key interest rate steady at 0.15%

The European Central Bank held its key interest rates unchanged at its regular policy meeting Thursday, a month after taking unprecedented measures to ease monetary conditions in the 18-country euro area. As widely expected, the ECB's decision-making governing council decided to hold the bank's main refi refinancing rate steady at 0.15 percent, the marginal lending rate at 0.40 percent and the deposit rate at minus 0.10 percent. ECB-watchers had not been expecting any new policy moves this month after the central bank unveiled a package of extraordinary measures in June in its battle to prevent the single currency area from slipping into deflation. At that meeting, the ECB entered uncharted waters, taking one of its key interest rates into negative territory for the first time.

Tea party challengers face uphill battle in finding lawyers needed to win

For tea party challengers, running against establishment candidates doesn’t just mean bucking the ideological status quo. It also often means shunning the institutional and organizational conventions that have propelled candidates to victory for decades. Perhaps there is no better example of the price of engagement for these candidates than in Mississippi, where tea party challenger Chris McDaniel has not officially conceded his race and accused the incumbent, six-term Sen. Thad Cochran of electoral foul play.

Fighting in east Ukraine despite push for truce talks

Fighting rumbled on in east Ukraine Thursday between government troops and pro-Russian rebels despite a fresh push for ceasefire talks from international envoys. Ukraine's border service said that nine guards were wounded when rebels shelled the Dolzhansky border post with Russia, a strategic crossing that Kiev won back days earlier in a step hailed as the "first victory" since the renewal of its military offensive.

Sudan military denies helicopter downed in Kordofan

Sudan's military on Thursday denied one of its helicopter gunships had been shot down in South Kordofan, after rebels released photographs claiming to show the crippled machine. "No one shot any of our aircraft," Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad told AFP. He said a helicopter had, however, made an emergency landing eight days ago in South Kordofan. "The pilot informed his commander, and SAF recovered the helicopter," Saad said.

Top economies contract in first quarter of 2014: OECD

Leading global economies contracted in the first three months of 2014 as companies traded less and ordered fewer goods, and despite a slight rise in private consumption, the OECD said Thursday. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development had recorded growth of 0.5 percent in the previous quarter. For the third quarter running, private consumption was the biggest contributor to business activity, posting an increase of 0.3 percent in the first three months of this year, a statement said.

Irish economic output surges 2.7% in first quarter

Ireland's economy expanded by a strong 2.7 percent in the first quarter of 2014 in yet another sign that the eurozone nation is returning to health, official data showed Thursday. "Preliminary estimates for the first quarter of 2014 indicate that gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 2.7 percent in volume terms on a seasonally adjusted basis compared with the fourth quarter of last year," the Central Statistics Office said in a statement.

French govt denies meddling in Sarkozy corruption case

France's Socialist government on Thursday rejected claims it was using the justice system for political ends after ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy accused his enemies of being behind corruption charges. "Some people have a hard time believing this, for reasons I don't want to comment on," Le Foll said, in a reference to left-wing allegations that Sarkozy's government unduly influenced the justice system. By accusing the judiciary of bias, including singling out one judge in the case, Sarkozy "is trying to divert public attention to politics, conspiracies or who knows what," Socialist Party leader Jean-Christophe Cambadelis said. Some have compared Sarkozy's attack on the judiciary with former Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi's tirades against judges he accuses of being behind his many legal woes.

Iraq Kurd chief to discuss disputed areas referendum: MP

Iraqi Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani will address the Kurdish parliament Thursday on holding a referendum in disputed areas, after vowing to hold a plebiscite within months, an MP said. Farsat Sufi, a lawmaker in the Kurdish parliament, said the referendum would be on Article 140, the section of the Iraqi constitution that provides for a vote on whether disputed northern territory will join the Kurdish region or remain under direct federal control. At present, elections across Iraq are organised by the country's Independent High Electoral Commission, including votes in Kurdish areas.

Zimbabwe editor granted bail in subversion case

A Zimbabwean state newspaper editor facing charges of subversion and undermining President Robert Mugabe's authority was granted bail by the high court on Thursday under stringent conditions, his lawyer said. "Mr (Edmund) Kudzayi has been granted $5,200 (3,800 euros) bail," lawyer Admire Rubaya told AFP. Kudzayi is also facing charges of creating a Facebook account in the name of Baba Jukwa, who has a cult following for his claims to expose secrets of the Mugabe government. The Facebook account was a hit during elections last year, apparently for dishing dirt on the inner workings of Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party.

South Sudan famine 'within weeks' without funding

Famine will break out in war-torn South Sudan within weeks unless massive funding for food aid is provided, aid agencies warned on Thursday. "If the conflict in South Sudan continues, and more aid cannot be delivered, then by August it is likely that some localised areas of South Sudan will slip into famine," warned Britain's Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), a coalition of 13 major aid agencies. The United Nations has around 40 percent of the cash it needs, with a shortfall of over a billion dollars (760 million euros). "There is a very real risk of famine in some areas," DEC chief Saleh Saeed said, warning that "millions of people are facing an extreme food crisis."

Eleven hurt as Israeli warplanes pound Gaza

Eleven Palestinians were wounded Thursday when Israel pounded targets in Gaza as militants kept up a volley of cross-border fire, with rockets hitting two houses in the Israeli south. "Eleven people were wounded during the night, including one who is in serious condition," a spokesman for the Gaza health authority said, indicating seven were hurt in Beit Lahiya in the north and four in Gaza City. The pre-dawn raids came after nearly a dozen rockets struck southern Israel, two of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, the army said.

Egypt Islamists call 'day of anger' to mark Morsi ouster

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood called for a 'day of anger' Thursday to mark the first anniversary of the military overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi, which unleashed a violent crackdown that all but crushed the Islamists. Police closed off several main squares in Cairo and beefed up security ahead of the anticipated protests. Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement was listed as a terrorist group after his overthrow and many of its leaders, including Morsi, jailed.

Somali lawmaker assassinated, Shebab claim responsibility

Somalia's Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab claimed responsiblity for shooting dead a lawmaker and wounding another on Thursday, the latest in a surge of attacks in Mogadishu during Islam’s holy month of Ramadan. We also wounded another MP and two body guards," Shebab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab told AFP. Witness said MP Ahmed Mohamud Hayd, a former minister and a senior army commander, was killed in the capital's port district, one of the most heavily policed areas in the heart of the city. "We will continue to hunt other MPs if they do not leave the apostate organisation," Abu Musab added.